Profile: Moran Norris
Before turning out the lights at night, 7-year-old Ryan Leary often reads the signed KU football program that hangs above his bed &endash; a gift from his good friend Moran Norris. The message reads: "Stay strong and always strive to reach your goals."
The two met while Norris was a volunteer in Leary's kindergarten class. Through the Helping Hawks program at Hillcrest Elementary School, Norris helped teach everything from reading to addition and subtraction. And, according to Ryan, Norris was especially talented at "putting paper clips on papers so we could take them home."
So what was it like for the hulking Norris to sit in a little chair surrounded by kids every Tuesday?
"They called me Kindergarten Cop," said Norris, referring to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film in which Schwarzenegger plays a cop who goes undercover as a pre-school teacher. "At first they were scared, but after they found out that I was a friendly person who wanted to help them, and that I played football and saw my picture in the paper, they would start tackling me and stuff.
"They really look forward to you coming in and they explain their problems to you. Some of them don't have a father-figure at home, so to some you're more like a father-figure and a friend. I got as attached to them as they did to me. I miss the little kids."
When Norris, who participated in the program for five semesters before graduating in December 2000 with a degree in Communication Studies, returned for May graduation ceremonies, he and Ryan went to lunch.
"Ryan and I became good friends," said Norris, a fullback who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the NFL draft. "So I've just tried to teach him to keep working hard and to stay positive."
Steve Leary, Ryan's father, is thankful for the positive influence Norris had on his son.
"Moran has showed Ryan that if you focus on your goals, you can achieve anything," Leary said. "He's one of the finest young men I've ever met and Ryan's learned a lot about what it takes to become a successful person from Moran."
While his second-grade classroom will seem a little empty this fall without Norris, Ryan knows that he can always call his friend.
"I'm going to miss Moran," he said. "But he'll come back sometimes, and I'll call him if I ever need help on my schoolwork."
Norris cherishes the experience the Helping Hawks program provided.
"I really learned how to communicate with people more, especially kids," Norris said. "They made me laugh a lot. Sometimes kids can say some pretty funny stuff."
"I would encourage more student-athletes to get into the Helping Hawks program, they'll enjoy it. And I'm telling you, they won't regret it." -- Mike Harrity, KU Student Support Services